Mariette Monpierre: Living Her Dream

Filmmaker Mariette Monpierre
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Mariette Monpierre: Living Her Dream

Women-owned firms (51% or more) account for 39% of all privately held firms and contribute 85% of employment and 4.2% of revenues. As more and more women think of ways to help their families by bringing in revenue, more women are considering starting their own business.  This writer decided to talk to some of these business orientated women.  Since my beat is entertainment, naturally I began my quest by talking with women who are in the business of show business.  Since French Caribbean filmmaker Mariette Monpierre lives both in NY and in Guadeloupe, I caught up with her while she was in NY over the Christmas holiday.  She graciously took the time to talk with me about her background, her career in independent filmmaking and her love for it.

“I am in NY presently since I wanted to spend time with my son who lives in NYC. I lived in NY for 30 years.  It is my home, but I choose to return to my place of birth because I needed to feel a connection to where I was born,“ remarked  Mariette who was born in Guadeloupe but raised in Paris.  “I felt the urge to reconnect with my roots and am now living in a beautiful place where the sun shines everyday and I hear the ocean waves crashing on the shore. I am really lucky and feel grateful to have a spectacular view.  I know people in NY are hurting badly.  Guadeloupe is hurting too.  Yet somehow being under the sun makes the suffering seem much easier.” said the former producer of Frito Lay, Campbell soup, Visa, Pizza Hut, etc., for the advertising agency BBD&O before venturing into producing and directing her own films.

Ms Monpierre went on to write and create documentaries, shorts, music videos, podcasts and her feature film entitled ELZA.  Her documentary films include, "Knowledge is Power," “Sweet Mickey for President?” which won Best Documentary at the Reel Sisters Film Festival in New York.  Her short film “Rendez-Vous,”  experienced a successful run in several major international film festivals and was featured at the African Diaspora Film Festival in New York.  Her first feature film “ELZA” was a New York Times Critics Pick.  It won the 2012 BAFTA Choice Award, The Jury Award for Best Director First Feature at the Pan African Film Festival in LA., and the Paul Robeson Award for Best Film of the Diaspora at FESPACO in Burkina Faso, West Africa.

“My first instinct was to tell my story since I saw few stories about my people whether in the Caribbean, Africa or part of African Americans in the Diaspora.  The first feature film I did was my personal story of wanting to meet my father; returning to the island where I was born to meet him and to tell the aftermath of that meeting; how it transformed me and made me into the woman I am today.  In an effort to get in touch with my identity and connect with my father’s side of the family, I called my father but a woman answered the phone.  I introduced myself and blurted out who I was…there was a long pause.  It was then that I realized the woman was my father’s wife. She didn’t even know I existed and I was too young to realize how painful it must have been for her to receive that phone call 20 years after the fact.  As it turned out she was married to my father when my father had me and my sister so it came as a shock.  The meeting with my father was heartbreaking for me because it didn’t happen as I envisioned.  I was hoping to look in his eyes and have him embrace me but it didn’t happen that way.   Eventually my father’s wife embraced me but my father never did.  She told me she understood a daughter wanting to meet her father. However my father said a horrible thing to me.  He said, “With kinky hair like yours you cannot possibly be my daughter.”  I did not understand what he meant but later understood his comment was full of racial conflicts - Black against white, fair skin against dark skin, kinky hair against flowing straight hair and all the ingredients that makes life difficult when his DNA reflects his victimhood via generations of slavery and a slave mindset. No matter what he was or who he was he was still my father, so I love and needed him as my father. Therefore, I always give him the benefit of the doubt.  I never felt hatred toward him.  I was always searching for his embrace that never came.  However, his family did embrace me and I am thankful for that.  They are my new family and I love them.  And, it was my film ELZA that brought my family to me.  I took some poetic license however and gave Eliza a happy ending. Every little girl wants to dance with her father so that is how I ended the film even though in real life it never happened.   The film was like therapy for me,” explained Monpierre who received her graduate degree at Smith College in Massachusetts.

Like most businesses under the siege of Covid-19, filming has been temporarily curtailed.   “I believe things often happen for a reason. So, instead of sitting around complaining, I took this opportunity to slow down, smell the coffee and look at the things around me and redirect my efforts toward writing.  Instead of being on set and shooting films, commercials or institutionals, I decided to throw myself into writing.  I have been writing a TV series called Caribbean Girls NYC, and have been able to write 12 episodes.  I plan to shoot the series primarily in NY and some scenes in the Caribbean.  I am hoping by the end of 2021 Coronavirus will slow down so I can pick up a camera, hire a crew, shoot, and do whatever I need to do to make this TV series a reality.“

One wonders sometimes how filmmakers find the stories they film.  “I had stories deep inside of me.  I did not see on the big screen my people‘s stories from the Caribbean or Africa or from the African  American Diaspora, so I wrote my own.  You don’t need any real education to do film, I think the best education is learning on the spot, learning with peers and being on set and observing.   But if you have the money there are great film schools that can teach you for 4-5 years to be a filmmaker. Also, it is important I create a space where actors can grow.  The actors need that safety net that as a director I must create.”

An independent filmmaker doesn’t always have Hollywood behind them so has to secure capital which can be difficult. “I apply for grants: government and private institution grants.  In France, there is a huge government company called the National Center for Cinema that gives funding to filmmakers. Sometimes the Center gives as much as $100,000 or more depending on the scope of the film."  It can take years to make a film.  It took Mariette six long years to finance Elza. Many filmmakers have to be a jack of all trades. Filmmakers need to be able to act, produce, direct and write.  "I have to be an inventor, a parent to the actors and crew, I have to be a therapist, a party organizer when the shoot is over,” claimed Mariette.  “It is all about the vision that you have to convey to people.  You have to surround yourself with a team willing to follow you in your adventure.  When you deicide to make a film it takes years of your life so you want to be sure filming is what you want to do.  When I audition people I look for actors who have passion and the desire to give a great performance.  I have a crew about 50 people more or less.  I have a line producer who make sure he gets all the licenses that enable me to film in the chosen locations. I have lawyers who write the contracts to cover me and the production. Since I am an independent filmmaker it’s important to be an owner of my work.  I am the first woman filmmaker of Guadeloupe to direct a feature narrative. That is why black filmmakers must archive their stories.  I want to archive my films so years later my body of work is recognized by the next generation.  Therefore, my films become part of history and as an archive Is depictive of my culture and people.   Black people need to definitely archive their work.

Mariette talked about how her career has grown.  “My career has grown slowly but surely.  Maybe not as fast as I would like because I encountered many hurdles.  However,  now I have arrived at a point in my career where people ask my advice, invite me to film festivals and want me to talk about my films.  I am happy from where I started compared to where I am now. Everyday I fly out of my bed doing what I love… transmitting my stories, meeting people, making documentaries, movies,  commercials, music videos  and I love it!  Women are visible now.  I love to travel, I have been to the 4 corners of the world where my films are recognized.  It is tougher for women to make films.  The more visible I am on social media, the easier my life is since the producers look me up on social media to see how I am doing.”

Filmmaking is profitable for Mariette because she can create her art and make money with it. “I live on what I make. I may not have a bunch of houses however I am happy and grateful for the lovely life I live. I distributed my film Elza through Kino Lorber.  People can type the film name, my name and Kino Lorber and you will find you can screen ELZA under Black Voices/Black Stories.  My films are available on line and on DVD.  You can rent movies at the public library on Kanopy for free with your library card.  My most recent film is a documentary called “Between Two Shores” about 2 women from the Dominican Republic who were forced to leave their children and risk their lives in search of a better life for themselves and their family,” explained Mariette about the unfortunate life some immigrants experience when they are forced to leave their children behind only to find they are unable to bring their children into the country where they migrated.  Interested parties can find “Between 2 Shores” on Afropop on the PBS website.

To find more information about Mariette Monpierre, see Facebook and her website: www.mariettemonpierre.com 


 

 


 

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